Ed Miliband, with crown. Photo: Getty/New Statesman composite
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Election 2015 Style: Flower Power Ed uses his head

The most successful manifestations of style and fashion may be defined not by conformity, but by otherness, writes Harper's Bazaar editor Justine Picardie.

Such is the nature of print journalism that I am writing this before the election has taken place, although by the time some of you come to read these words, the voting will be over, even if no clear outcome has yet emerged. This seems strangely reminiscent, to me at least, of the constant state of uncertainty that defines the fashion world, however much it might pride itself on an ability to make predictions about people’s desires and demands.

Of course, some readers will feel that fashion has no place in any analysis of politics; to which I can only point in the direction of the ardent teenage Milifans, who have been busily rebranding the Labour leader by photoshopping decorative flower crowns on to his head. As it happens, these were remarkably similar to the floral headpieces worn by the models in the Chanel couture show in January this year: bright and light and optimistic, despite the general gloom in Paris at the time.

Source: Twitter

One of the sweet and funny things about the crowns is how absurd they looked on Miliband – a man who I suspect has never even glanced at pictures of a Chanel fashion show, let alone considered the semiotics of flower power. But what I also liked about the flowers, and their sudden sprouting on Ed’s head, was that their presence seemed to suggest that even in an age of professional spin-doctors, politics is as impossible to control as the ebb and flow of fashion.

The appealing irrationality of the floral garlands was, of course, entirely unexpected; for they arose out of nowhere, in the midst of an election campaign in which the three main political leaders – Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband – had hitherto worn identical-looking tailored dark suits, all of them accessorised with pale blue shirts and neatly knotted plain ties. Yet for all the inherent absurdity of Miliband being crowned with flowers, it has some ancient precedent. Consider the laurel wreaths of the classical world, the symbols of victory and triumph; or a grass crown, the noblest of military decorations in ancient Rome.

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Julius Caesar liked to wear his laurel wreath on all occasions, in order to conceal his baldness, which he combined with a rather particular hairdo, still known today after the great dictator. George Clooney has been sporting a similar style to great effect on the set of his new film, Hail, Caesar!. So, too, has the Conservative Party’s very own pin-up, George Osborne, who unveiled his Caesar cut last year, along with a series of impeccably tailored suits that displayed his newly trim physique (apparently the result of strict adherence to the 5:2 diet). And even without a laurel wreath, Osborne’s hair has looked rather more luxuriant since he adopted Caesar’s tonsorial approach; although, as yet, I’ve been unable to find any Twitter fans who have adorned the Chancellor with flowers or a grass crown.

But just as Caesar’s laurel wreath did not save him from assassination, Miliband’s flower crown may not herald his ascent to power. However, his abundant hair could augur well, according to the belief that a bald man is unlikely to beat a hirsute one in an election. Thus William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard were unable to compete with Tony Blair’s hair.

Where this leaves the slightly balding, smooth-shaven David Cameron remains unclear. After all, he managed to defeat the undeniably hairier Gordon Brown in the last election; which might explain the MBE conferred upon the Prime Minister’s innovative hairdresser, Lino Carbosiero. (That said, Cameron’s coalition government did involve him joining forces with the more hirsute Nick Clegg). It might also explain why Nigel Farage recently speculated that Cameron had been using hair-dye, thereby implying that the Prime Minister was not only greying, but vain. Boris Johnson, in contrast, would want you to think that he doesn’t care about such piffling details, though his déshabillé appearance may be more contrived than he might let on; he has been observed on more than one occasion deliberately ruffling his blond locks before taking the stage to speak.

All of which reminds me that the most successful manifestations of style and fashion – and, quite possibly, politics – may be defined not by conformity, but by otherness. Hence most of the greatest designers have been mavericks or outsiders, such as Coco Chanel, who emerged from ­poverty, illegitimacy and obscurity to become an icon of female independence. “Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes,” she declared. “Fashion is in the air, borne upon the wind. One intuits it. It is in the sky and on the street.” Heaven only knows what Mademoiselle Chanel would make of the Milifans’ floral handiwork; but I for one salute them for their creative wit and loyal spirit, even if their beloved leader remains as yet uncrowned, except in their imagination.

Justine Picardie is the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Struggle

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